Make preparations

Upper roomMark 14:1-16

The two disciples Jesus selected to make preparations for the Passover had no idea that it would be the last meal they would share before Jesus would be handed over and killed. Along the way, Jesus told the twelve three times what would happen in Jerusalem. Yet, now that the plan was in motion, these two disciples were absolutely unprepared for the events of the next few days.

In the days leading up to this point, others were making preparations for Jesus. The Pharisees, scribes and chief priests secretly plotted to have Jesus arrested under false pretenses. In their view, Jesus was a danger and a threat to their status and way of life. At the house of Simon, a woman showed her love and devotion to Jesus by anointing him with expensive ointment. Her act of adoration prepared Jesus for the grave into which he would be laid. And finally, Judas Iscariot, having given in to the powers of evil, made preparations to betray the one who called him to take up his cross and follow.

Entering into Holy Week, Christians also make preparations, asking themselves, “What things are left undone?” We have waved the palms; greeted and welcomed Christ into our midst as our King. Many have heard the reading of his Passion and prepare to worship during the service of Triduum. Those preparing for baptism have studied at the feet of their shepherd and anticipate their opportunity to confess their faith and receive God’s Spirit of adoption. The significance of the Sacrament of the Altar has been made known to those who will receive it for the first time. What is left to prepare?

The day of preparation serves as our opportunity to once again enter into the mysteries of faith and be strengthened by the power of Christ’s victory. It is an opportunity to focus on the acts of discipleship; worship, prayer, reading Holy Scripture, fellowship and acts of love and service towards others. Such is the life Christ prepares and calls his followers to live.

The two disciples making preparations for Jesus had no idea what was about to happen. Standing in a place two thousand years the other side of the empty tomb, today’s disciples know what they two could not. Now it is our turn to prepare ourselves, reaching out to others so that they may meet the risen Lord Jesus and rejoice in his victory over sin and the grave.

Most merciful God, strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit, and prepare us for your kingdom. Amen.

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No one knows

Mark 13_26Mark 13:1-37

Certainly with all the conflict, violence and natural disasters, the end must be near. How could things get much worse? Evil is personified in so many ways; terrorist, tyrants, and gangs all threaten the safety and security of the human family. Just when we think the news could not get any worse, the headlines bring yet another round of stories concerning atrocities and hate. On the flip side, the world has also seen its share of false Messiahs come and go. Leaders of cults and outlandish religious movements mislead millions.  They have swayed many to false belief throughout the years. Considering all of this, the end surely must be near.

The notion of living in the end times is not something that is new. Many of the early Christians believed Jesus would come soon, bringing his judgment and wrath upon those who deny his grace and lordship. Yet, Jesus tells us that many of the instances we point to are just the beginnings of the birth pangs. Jesus says these things will take place, and as we look back upon the centuries of Church history, these things have occurred and promise to continue.

There is another promise God’s people can count on, the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. Just as we become witness to all that is evil in our fallen world, we also will see the Son of Man in the clouds coming with great power and glory. Jesus promises to come again and reveal the kingdom of God in all of its fullness to those who believe. Until he comes, Jesus commands his people to continue in his ways, love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Eternal God, as we await your coming in glory, give us faith that we may remain steadfast in your Word. Amen.

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Church and money

Mark 12_17Mark 12:1-17

The Pharisees and Herodians were out to set a snare for Jesus; they wanted a way to charge and arrest him. In previous attempts, their plots could not stand in the light of God’s truth. With this latest trap, they tried to confront Jesus with another question with two seemingly wrong answers; “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” If Jesus answered yes, they would have him on charges of idolatry, for the coin bore the image of the emperor. If he answered no, the Romans would have a charge of disobedience against him. With this question, their trap was set; all they needed to do was await Jesus’ answer.

Once again, the attempt to use Jesus’ words against him backfires. The Pharisees’ question suggests there are things that belong to this world and things that belong to God. On the surface, Jesus’ answer seems to validate such a position. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) But it isn’t long before the Pharisees and Herodians understand they are caught in their own trap. If they are to respond to Jesus, they must explain their reason for paying the tax all along.

The church today often falls into this same trap. Bring this text up within a meeting or Bible study and almost immediately people will say everything belongs to God, even our money. They, of course would be correct. But it would not be long before the discussion falls into the realm of a two kingdom theory; some things belong to the world, some things to God. Others make statements concerning the church must be run like a business, or we need to be careful not to spend so much of our money. Of course, these are faulty beliefs; the trap is sprung and we are snared.

The power of money is deceptive and deadly. Money buys material goods, material goods provide personal comfort, personal comfort leads us to a false notion that we are in control of our lives. The more goods we have, the more we feel we need. Luxuries become necessities; extravagance becomes essential. Even worse, the more we have, the more we feel we deserve, when in truth, because of our sin the only thing we deserve is death. Thankfully, the power of God’s love is stronger. Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” All we have, even our very lives belong to God. Yet our Father provides all we need for life. As we render taxes and other payments, we do so understanding the authority and responsibility of the institutions also come from God.

O Lord, our provider, we thank you for your many gifts, especially the gift of your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Questions of authority

Mark 11_28Mark 11:27-33

The day after Jesus drove the merchants and traders out of the temple, the chief priests, scribes and elders of the temple put Jesus on the spot, questioning his authority to do such things. They expected a direct answer. Instead, Jesus answered with a question of his own. Jesus’ hour had not yet come; if he said he did these things by his own authority, he would be arrested for disobeying the temple laws. If his answer was that he acted on God’s authority, blasphemy would be the charge. Understanding this, and knowing the hearts of those who would accuse him, Jesus turned their question around on those who abused the authority they’ve been given by God, replacing it with a perceived authority all their own.

All too often, the church faces the dilemma of authority. Certainly, God calls leaders for his people and gives them authority to act on his behalf. Yet, we have seen it happen time and again that sin, our age old rebellion, creeps into the life of the church and challenges what God has set in place. Both clergy and lay leaders are susceptible and must remain open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need to recognize the difference between what is real and what is perceived.  So how does the church tell the difference? The answer is tested by truth.

Authority that is exercised in the truth of the gospel is revealed as a reflection of the life and light of Jesus Christ. The chief commandments to love God and love neighbor become the guiding factors for decisions and activities. The leader striving to exercise God’s authority seeks to do his will. When shortcomings become evident, the faithful leader humbles himself and relies upon God’s mercy and grace.

Perceived authority, or authority that is abused, cannot stand in the light of truth. Perceived authority most often leads to abused authority. The fruit of such is conflict, division and brokenness. It is not open to the power of the Holy Spirit, is slow to see the truth and does not readily take responsibility for negative outcome. Yet again, God is merciful.

Jesus is the model for faithful leadership; the leader’s authority is found in him. When sin and brokenness creep into the life of the church, faithful leaders recognize such issues, confronting them in the way Jesus taught. In his name, we speak the truth in love and forgive the sins of others as God forgives us. We recognize our own faults and seek to reconcile all involved through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Merciful God, guide us by the example of your Son; make us willing to bow to your authority. Amen.

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To be a house of prayer

Mark 11_17Mark 11:15-19

If Jesus were to enter into your church today, what would he find? Would he find a pastor who is diligent in leading the worship? Would Jesus find the pews filled with faithful children of God, gathered for the express purpose of offering their thanks and praise to the Father? If Jesus were to sit in on one of the church council meetings, would he read the reports and approve of the way everything provided by God is managed?

When Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem, he found it to be anything but the house of prayer it was intended to be. The place for religious rituals and worship had become a place of exchanging foreign currency and selling animals for sacrifice. Faithfulness, it seems, had given way to entrepreneurship, worship turned into business.

In his judgment, Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold animals and goods. He drove out all who bought and sold, for they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. It is interesting to note that the word Mark uses to describe Jesus driving out the abusers of the temple is the same word he uses when Jesus casts out demons. Just as Jesus drives out the evil spirits that have invaded God’s people, so he also drove out the evil taking place in the temple.

What is it that needs to be driven out of our churches; what sorts of abuses need cleansing? Are there harmful attitudes Jesus would rid us of? Would our Lord enter into our midst, pass judgment and drive out the perceived power brokers and those who would hoard the money given to do the work of the gospel? If we are going to be honest, we have to admit these conditions exist.

Just as there was no place for the abuses of the temple, there is no place for such behavior within the church. Jesus calls God’s people to faithfulness; he calls us to follow his example and become imitators of his ways. Jesus teaches us that our worship is to be true, our love for God and neighbor genuine. And when we fall short, we must remember that in the place of sacrificial offerings, Jesus drove out the powers that defy God and offered his life for the sake of God’s people.

Gracious Lord, rid us of the attitudes and practices that turn us away from you. Create within us clean hearts, that we may keep your house a place for worship and prayer. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Image: St. Mary of the Mount; Pittsburgh, PA.  August, 2013